Taylor Ian Christopher
ictaylor at hkusua.hku.hk
Sun Feb 25 20:28:21 MST 1996
here's another thing about Kerala.
=09=09Is there a Kerala model?
Paper Presented at the
World Malayalee Convention '95
July 1-3, 1995
Garden State Exhibit Center
Somerset, New Jersey
Richard W. Franke
Professor of Anthropology
Montclair State University
Upper Montclair, New Jersey 07043
e-mail franke at saturn.montclair.edu
As you probably know, most people in the United States know
little about India. They know even less about Kerala. But
among academics, Kerala has become something of a star, a place
to study and to puzzle about. The reason is undoubtedly well-
known to you: it is because of the so-called Kerala Model.
What is the Kerala model? It generally refers to the high
achievements of Kerala's people on statistical indicators of devel-
opment. These indicators have been achieved despite continuing
The data are dramatic. Kerala's 1991 birth rate was 20 per
1,000 females compared with India's rate of 31 and a world poor
country average of 38. Kerala's infant mortality was 17 per 1,000
live births versus 85 for India and 91 for other poor countries.
Kerala's adult literacy rate was 91% while India's was 52% and
other poor countries had 55%. Yet Kerala's per capita income in
1991 was $298 compared to the all-India average of $330 and a
world poor country average of $350. By comparison, the USA in
1991 had a per capita GNP of $22,240. Yet Kerala's material
quality of life indicators were far closer to those of the USA than
to those of the rest of India or those countries with similar
Is there a Kerala model? If we look just at the standard devel-
opment statistics, the answer seems surely to be yes. Kerala
proves empirically that literacy, low infant mortality, and the like
can be achieved even before industrial world income levels. Some
aspects of development do not have to wait for economic growth.
But is the Kerala model just a batch of statistical indicators?
In 1975, scientists at the Centre for Development Studies in
Trivandrum attempted the first overall interpretation of Kerala's
unique development profile. While pointing to Kerala's achieve-
ments -- already apparent at the time -- they also focused atten-
tion on the problem of unemployment and the low levels of food
intake and incomes generally. Their study was soon followed by
a spate of articles and books lauding the Kerala "social justice"
model -- a development success which seemed to require no out-
side aid and which did not seem to threaten violent revolution.
In retrospect, we need to recognize I think, that the Kerala
model has become an inspiration partly for those two reasons. As
the rich countries have become increasingly unwilling to extend
meaningful foreign aid and as the threats of violence and anarchy
have seemed to spread in the Third World, Kerala has become
increasingly more of a model. Unfortunately, it turns out, at
least part of Kerala's fame results from the dismal situation in
many Third World countries.
But on the positive side, there is much to gain from a deeper
look inside the Kerala model. In 1986-87 sociologist Barbara H.
Chasin and I lived in the central Kerala village of Nadur. We
chose to investigate the Kerala model at the village level. If
there were improvements, did they result from Kerala's approach
to development? We surveyed 170 households that had been
studied in 1971 by anthropologist Joan Mencher of the City Uni-
versity of New York. Our study showed that positive changes
had occurred in the 16 year period between the first study and
our own, income inequality had declined by 17%. We found that
the Kerala land reform had expanded rice land ownership from 4%
to 28% of households and had increased house and garden (para-
mba) ownership to 100%. We found that the ration shop raised
the effective incomes of the poorest 20% of the population by 10%
and that this shop was especially important in providing adequate
staple foods during times of the year when agricultural labor is
least available. Households with children who took advantage of
the school lunch program increased their overall food intake by 5%
and also depended especially on the lunches in times of unem-
ployment or underemployment. Fifteen percent of village house-
holds were benefiting from agricultural laborer pensions and
related benefits that made up 17% of the incomes of those house-
holds. Clearly, Kerala's redistribution programs had a significant
impact on the incomes of Nadur's people.
Beyond the redistribution aspects, our study found that
several of the lowest income households had achieved limited but
real economic and mobility. They achieved this mobility through
a combination of educational opportunities, special programs for
the disadvantaged castes, and access to unionized jobs. Overall,
people improved their houses, their wells, and made small gains
in the ownership of consumer goods.
Despite the progress clearly evident at the village level, our
study also showed that most people remained very poor by inter-
national developed country standards. Their diet is just barely
adequate, their homes are almost bare of furniture, and many
have lives full of intense periods of very hard labor alternating
with anxious periods without work. Our study found that the 42%
of households dependent on agricultural work found only an
average of 90 days work in the year. These figures are similar
to those in several recent studies.
Across Kerala more generally, we also see severe limits to the
Kerala model. Unemployment may be as high as 30% for men and
60% for women. One of Kerala's great development achievements
-- its high levels of education -- makes it possible for many
unemployed Malayalees to find work outside the state. Remittanc-
es from outside Kerala have contributed as much as 13% of the
state's income, leading at least one Kerala model scholar to ask
whether the model could be sustained without remittances (Jeffrey
Kerala's high unemployment combines with several other prob-
lems that threaten the sustainability of Kerala's achievements.
Low agricultural and industrial growth rates mean continuing low
incomes and budgetary crises for the state government. The
structural adjustment policies emanating from New Delhi threaten
the achievements of the ration shops and school lunches. Already
the lunches have been cut back from 3 million students in 1987 to
2.2 million in 1993. Between 1992 and 1993 subsidized rice
purchases in Kerala -- that is, mainly ration shop rice to the
poor -- declined by 9%. Claims that these figures might repre-
sent more "efficient" targeting of benefits run counter to what
our research in Nadur predicts and thus need to be supported
with empirical studies.
Several recent studies indicate that several groups have been
systematically left out of the Kerala model. Reports read at the
first International Congress on Kerala Studies held at the A. K.
G. Centre and Kerala University in August 1994, highlighted the
exclusion of many members of the following groups: fishing
people, female stone cutters, female domestic servants, female
agricultural laborers, tribal peoples, and migrant workers from
Tamil Nadu. I estimate that together, these groups may include
up to 15% of Kerala's people. Their exclusion thus poses a major
challenge to the Kerala model: have the other 85% benefited at
the cost of a minority of the most powerless and dispossessed?
This question calls for further research.
High unemployment, low economic growth, low incomes, govern-
ment budget shortfalls, high dependence on outside remittances,
vulnerability to policy changes in New Delhi, groups left outside
the benefits of redistribution policies -- this is a challenging list
of problems for the Kerala model to solve. But there is at least
one more major problem in Kerala: environmental degradation.
Fishing resources seem to be declining in some areas. Saliniza-
tion, water logging, polluted rivers, and severe forest cover loss
leading to soil erosion, especially on the slopes of the Western
Ghat mountains -- these, too, may be taking place. How can
development be successful in the long run unless the precious
resource base is maintained? With its heavy population density
and it large number of micro environments packed together in a
small, but varied landscape, Kerala is particularly vulnerable to
ecological degeneration. Until fairly recently, it does not appear
that the Kerala model included attention to this issue.
So now we have the challenge. After decades of achievements,
Kerala still faces daunting obstacles in bringing a better life to
its people and in maintaining the resources for that life for future
generations. In the face of such obstacles, Kerala is fortunate,
however, because of another element of the Kerala model that I
have not yet mentioned.
The Kerala model has two types of elements -- the short-term
and the long-term. The short term refers to specific problems
while the long term is the way progress gets made. In each par-
ticular time period, the short-term Kerala model elements may be
different. At one time, the struggle against caste indignities, at
another the demand for reading rooms, at another land reform.
Of course, many of these elements can overlap -- it is precisely a
combination of several overlapping elements that produced the
academic version of the Kerala model because of the contrast with
much of the rest of the third world where far fewer elements
But in the long run, it is the long run element of the Kerala
model that mean the most. I am sure you know what it is, but
since you invited me to give this talk, let me tell you about the
way I see it. The key word is participation. In Kerala, more
than in most parts of the underdeveloped world, large numbers of
people participate in activities to better their lives. Malayalees
are not just literate. More people in Kerala read the newspapers
and discuss them. They also write letters to complain about
problems and demand solutions. Malayalees do not just have the
right to vote. In Kerala people vote in far higher percentages
than in most of the rest of India -- and more so than in the
United States also. Malayalees do not just benefit from the
advances of modern science. In Kerala there is a mass organiza-
tion called the People's Science Movement (KSSP) that tries to
bring science education to the compound gates even in the villag-
es. While science movements exist in other parts of India, none
is as highly developed as in Kerala.
Kerala's people thus face the seemingly overwhelming problems
I noted earlier with a large dose of the one element that makes
solutions possible: a strong capacity to organize on their own
behalf. After decades of practice, the idea of organizing move-
ments to solve problems is well established in Kerala. What
should these movements do? That is up to the people of Kerala
to decide -- and to figure out.
But here is a place for overseas Malayalees to fit in. I am told
that many expatriates feel a loss of connection with Kerala. This
loss grows with each generation. You want your children to
learn Malayalam and to learn and care about Kerala, but their
lives are now mostly structured around the culture in which they
live. That is understandable. Why should they want to learn
much about Kerala if it is just a faraway place where some rela-
tives live whom they visit infrequently?
Perhaps they -- and you -- need to be more involved in Kera-
la. One way to do this might be to organize local projects
somewhat like the Sister City projects that many North Americans
participate in to connect them to the lives and activities of people
in other countries. Such projects involve establishing committees
in both sister units. Then visits are exchanged and each group
tries to see what the other needs and what it can offer. A US-
based group might want a visitor to talk about life in Kerala
today while the Kerala group might want to set up a mechanism
for donations of books to its local school or day care centers. I
mention this example because I notice every time I visit Nadur
that despite the energy and good will of the people there, many
kinds of needed supplies are inadequate. The day care center
nearest where I stay has a wonderful, dedicated teacher and
active and enthusiastic children. But they have almost no toys
and few books or other items to work with. What if they had a
sister-type relationship with an organized group of overseas
Keralites who were exchanging visits and learning about their
I am sure many of you have already thought about ideas like
this. And many of you may already be maintaining contacts with
your places of origin. But a larger, more organized connection
between Kerala and its overseas migrants might bring many bene-
fits to both. The Kerala Model does not have to stop at the
Selected Publications On Kerala by Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Cha=
Chasin, Barbara H. 1990. Land reform and women's work in a =8D Kerala
village. Michigan State University. Working Papers on =8D Women in
International Development no. 207. East Lansing.
Franke, Richard W. 1991. Review essay of Kannan, K. P. =8D 1988. Of
rural proletarian struggles: mobilization and organiza=1F=8D tion of rur=
workers in Southwest India. In Bulletin of Con=1F=8D cerned Asian Schola=
Franke, Richard W. 1992. Land reform versus inequality in =8D Nadur
village, Kerala. Journal of Anthropological Research =8D 48(2):81-116.
Franke, Richard W. 1993. Life Is a Little Better: Redistribu=1F=8D tion =
a Development Strategy in Nadur Village Kerala. Boulder, =8D Colorado.
Westview Press. [Malayalam translation to be pub=1F=8D lished in 1996].
Franke, Richard W. 1993. Feeding programs and food intake in =8D a
Kerala village. Economic and Political Weekly 27(8/9):355-361.
Franke, Richard W. and Barbara H. Chasin. 1994 [orig 1989]. =8D Kerala:
Radical Reform as Development in an Indian State. =8D Third printing,
second edition, with substantial update to the =8D 1994 printing.
Oakland, California. Institute for Food and =8D Development Policy and
New Delhi. Promilla & Co.
Franke, Richard W. and Barbara H. Chasin. 1992. Kerala State, =8D India:
Radical reform as development. International Journal of =8D Health
Franke, Richard W. and Barbara H. Chasin. 1991. Kerala State, =8D India:
Radical reform as development. Monthly Review 42 (8):1-=8D 23. With
commentaries by Maria Helena Moreira Alves, Samir =8D Amin, Prabhat
Patnaik, and Carlos M. Vilas.
Franke, Richard W. and Barbara H. Chasin. 1990. The Kerala =8D
experiment: development without growth. Technology Review =8D
Reprinted in the Italian edition as Sviluppo a fattore comune: =8D
L'esperienza del Kerala, pp 40-49.
Franke, Richard W. and Barbara H. Chasin. 1995. Female-=8D headed
households: a continuing agenda for the Kerala model? =8D Presented at
the Seminar on Women in Kerala: Past and Present. =8D Government College
for Women and AKG Research Centre. Thiru=1F=8D vananthapuram, Kerala.
11-12 February 1995.
Franke, Richard W. and Barbara H. Chasin. 1994. The relevance of the
Kerala model in the emerging world order. Presented at the
International Congress on Kerala Studies. Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
27 August 1994.
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